Notice how we didn’t call these ear pods. Frankly, it’s because they’re not even close to those traditional white units everyone shoves in their ears. The Noble Audio Kaiser 10U monitors are more like music-appreciation devices. Being an audio fan—not an audiophile—my appreciation of music is up there, as I love a good riff, a funky bass line or an expert piece of track mastering. In almost every second of time spent with the 10Us, the connection to the music took me back to the place and time when it was recorded.
With ten drivers per side (hence 10U), the amount of clarity and distinction from track to track opens up an entirely different dimension. You can take a piece of music you’ve listened to since the foggy days of college, and by using the 10Us, it becomes totally new.
With the large combination of drivers controlling lows, mids and highs, the channels are isolated so that they're not singing to you. Rather, it sounds like a conversation moving from left to right ear with a Cheshire Cat subtlety, yet resounding coherence. Seeing sounds isn't so unfathomable as you can imagine the smacking of the drums, the finger playing of a guitar, the hand movements gliding across the keys to a piano, and the sultry voices into the microphone.
That means that when you pump up the music, instead of getting muddled, you’re able to hear more of what makes a song rich in detail. (For instance, we never heard the starship sound at 40 seconds on F*ck You from Dr. Dre’s 2001 album.) Or, how on Radiohead's Reckoner track, the cymbals smack with the crispness of slapping your hand on a falling wave. It all seems physically close to you, and somewhat of a revelation. It made listening to music almost new again.
As expected, you notice the size of the 10Us right away. They’re quite big for something that’s supposed to lodge into your ear canal, and putting them on at first requires an exercise of patience, as there are no instructions and you need to twist the cables to form to your ears.
Once you do, however, the 10Us fit snug and true, allowing for a full range of motion. Running probably isn’t recommended, but a gym session shouldn’t be a problem. Though at $1,600 for this device, you might want to use discretion where you take them. The replaceable headphone cords are a brilliant idea, though at this price point they're almost mandatory, as the cords are a lot easier to replace than the housings.
Another bonus to having 20 drivers surrounding your head, the bass with which the 10Us can pump out is pretty incredible. With the aluminum billet housing (machined locally in California) protecting the drivers, the amount of ‘air’ able to reach your stereocilia and turn pressure into sound is, quite literally, intense. Usually, the bigger, the better—some perfectionists will point out that indeed it is—but the proximity with which the 10Us sit in your ear resonates sound waves extremely clear.
Strictly speaking, these are very specific listening devices for a small majority of people. If we had more disposable income, we would buy these without thinking twice. They’re that impressive. There is nothing like them. For portability, definition, and appreciation of music, the money seems to be well worth the price of admission. A hardened 1010 Pelican Case is a nice touch to keep the 10Us protected when stowed away. Also, there is an abundance of small accessories to help them fit perfectly.
If you’re looking headphones that can double down as compact travel pieces and studio monitors, there’s really no other option that mixes the perfect balance of performance, style and mobility.